Sunday, September 18, 2011

All the young dudes give fans reason to hope

Rookie Jabaal Sheard's skills paid bills against Indy.

One's mood when watching the Browns this year is probably going to be determined by expectations.

Those who rather inexplicably believe this team has playoff aspirations are going to be very stressed out by the end of the year. Others who center their viewership around the natural growing pains of developing talent, meanwhile, will probably have a much calmer demeanor as the season goes by.

Because, to paraphrase the old adage, this year is not going to be about winning so much as how the Browns play the game. It's about finding out what the Browns have at skill positions that have been veritably unmanned over the last 12 seasons. And if we're looking for a gleam of a brighter future where Cleveland plays in that seemingly unreachable month of January, today's win against the Colts was the type of forward-looking effort this franchise needed.

A number of the Browns' first- and second-year draftees made a discernable impact this afternoon. Colt McCoy, Greg Little, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, T.J. Ward and Joe Haden, guys who will hopefully be a part of the Browns' nucleus for years to come, all impacted the game positively and helped the Browns to a much needed 27-19 victory.

This is notable because the Browns have had such a crying lack of playmakers at skill positions, or damned near anywhere on the field outside of long snapper, since their return to the league. How nice is it to see your quarterback escape the pocket and thread a rope to a waiting receiver? How refreshing is it to watch your rookie defensive end make a strip-sack at a critical point in the contest?

Nor do I care that these plays were made against the Colts, who apparently are the worst team in NFL history with Peyton Manning sidelined. (Side note: It's baffling how putrid Indy looks. Manning is gone, but they still have some solid players at key offensive positions, and while Collins is an elderly retread he's not Spergon Wynn for Pete's sake. I honestly do not understand it.)

Browns' fans are in no position to weigh the worth of opposing rosters. Boil it down, and our guys were making plays on their guys, even if Coach Pat Shurmur's playcalling was head scratching at times. The way the Browns kept running the same ineffective delayed screen to Peyton Hillis seriously messed with my yogi-like sense of tranquility. The appallingly conservative 3rd-and-2 fullback draw toward the end of the game almost harshed my mellow. Almost.

Let's forget all that for the moment. I'd rather think of the happy fact that the first two drafts of the Holmgren/Heckert era have accrued some pretty fine early returns. The work is far from done, and depth is still a major issue with this roster, but there is some young, impact talent here, and that should be enough to allow Browns' fans at least a small sigh of relief.